Thursday, March 31, 2005
The Dies Irae below is not what Terri's memory deserves. I am left with two scenes from Tolkien, one from the end of the novel The Lord of the Rings, and the other an especially-apt screenplay adaptation of the same scene that appeared in Return of the King. In his sub-creation, brother John Ronald Reuel expresses the blessed hope beautifully:
And the ship went out into the High Sea and passed on into the West, until at last on a night of rain Frodo smelled a sweet fragrance on the air and heard the sound of singing that came over the water. And then it seemed to him that as in his dream in the house of Bombadil, the grey rain-curtain turned all to silver glass and was rolled back, and he beheld white shores and beyond them a far green country under a swift sunrise.
* * *
Pippin: I didn't think it would end this way.
Gandalf: End? No, the journey doesn't end here. Death is just another path...one that we all must take. The grey rain-curtain of this world rolls back, and all changes to silver glass... And then you see it.
Pippin: What, Gandalf? See what?
Gandalf: White shores... and beyond: the far green country under a swift sunrise.
Pippin: Well, that isn't so bad.
Gandalf: No... No, it isn't.
* * *
Goodbye, Terri. Remember us as you take your place with the rest of the white-robed army.
[Update: The title has been changed (everything after "for"). The original ("the departed") sounded entirely too Felosian upon further review. Now it captures the reality better--"a life cruelly ended". Which it indisputedly was, right down to the morphine suppositories.]
Dies irae, dies illa
solvet saeclum in favilla:
teste David cum Sibylla.
Quantus tremor est futurus,
quando judex est venturus,
cuncta stricte discussurus!
Tuba mirum spargens sonum
per sepulcra regionum,
coget omnes ante thronum.
Mors stupebit et natura,
cum resurget creatura,
Liber scriptus proferetur,
in quo totum continetur,
unde mundus judicetur.
Judex ergo cum sedebit,
quidquid latet apparebit:
nil inultum remanebit.
Quid sum miser tunc dicturus?
Quem patronum rogaturus,
cum vix justus sit securus?
Rex tremendae majestatis,
qui salvandos salvas gratis,
salva me fons pietatis.
Recordare, Jesu pie,
quod sum causa tuae viae:
ne me perdas illa die.
Quaerens me, sedisti lassus:
redemisti Crucem passus:
tantus labor non sit cassus.
Juste judex ultionis,
donum fac remissionis
ante diem rationis.
Ingemisco, tamquam reus:
culpa rubet vultus meus:
supplicanti parce, Deus.
Qui Mariam absolvisti,
et latronem exaudisti,
mihi quoque spem dedisti.
Preces meae non sunt dignae:
sed tu bonus fac benigne,
ne perenni cremer igne.
Inter oves locum praesta,
et ab haedis me sequestra,
statuens in parte dextra.
flammis acribus addictis:
voca me cum benedictis.
Oro supplex et acclinis,
cor contritum quasi cinis:
gere curam mei finis.
Lacrimosa dies illa,
qua resurget ex favilla
judicandus homo reus.
Huic ergo parce, Deus:
Pie Jesu Domine,
dona eis requiem.
Wednesday, March 30, 2005
"I wouldn't want to live like that."
Really? From what the experts say about it, a patient in that state couldn't care less. More seriously--doy. No one would choose to be in that state. The issue is what is the proper response of a just society to people who end up in such a condition.
Then there's another problem--"I" wouldn't want that. What--better the last memory you burn into your loved ones' brains is that of your grotesque living mummification, even if they want otherwise?
But the greatest problem is that it's really a statement that translates out to "I wouldn't want to live as something less than fully human"--as defined by the phobic secular standards of early 21st Century America. That's what sets the disability activists off, and rightly so. Because it's a not-so-subtle comment on the value of their lives as well. And with the killing of Terri Schiavo, the distance between the "right" to die and a duty to do so gets a little bit narrower.
"Furthermore, as a faithful Catholic in full communion with Rome, I hereby offer a bounty of $25,000 (in 2005 dollars) for the literal scalp of every self-styled Catholic who proposes to testify in any way whatsoever in favor of the removal of food and water, regardless of how I may be receiving it."
That way you don't have to worry about the views of "Catholic" bioethicists like these guys.
As all can see, but nobody can stop, the killing of Mrs. Schiavo, for all the legalisms and philosophies blown in to obscure the simple fact of her death by starvation, the stark answer is:
'It does no good at all.'
'It does no good at all.'
The discussion now and in the days to follow until the last stroke of doom will not cancel out one word of that answer.
Read the whole thing.
[Link via the Anchoress.]
Can be seen in stark relief here.
Never--repeat, neverneverneverNEVER--ever spurn an offer of help and a sign of solidarity from someone who is normally on the other side of the issue. I'm normally no fan of Rev. Jackson, but his presence on the side of the Schindlers has done more to "depoliticize" the battle than anything else so far. When a Tom Harkin, Ralph Nader or Jose Serrano is willing to stand on the same side as you--with exactly zero benefit to himself or his natural allies--be thankful.
That, and if you didn't object to the presence of Randall Terry, then really--do shut up.
Some of the "oh no--not him!" reaction is more than a little like the embattled soldiers of Minas Tirith reacting to the arrival of Theoden's forces with: "Eeewww--the Rohirrim?!? Not them--those guys smell like horse s**t!"
Thursday, March 24, 2005
I have no idea if I'll blog anything else before Easter. I'm exhausted, to be honest. I guess we'll see.
I'm going home to hug my family and pray.
Without changing the subject, I'll leave you with a book recommendation: Death on a Friday Afternoon, by Fr. Richard John Neuhaus. A remarkably devotional turn for a public policy-minded priest, it is a meditation on the Seven Last Words of Christ from the Cross. Disregard the controversy on "universalism"--Fr. hasn't gone all goo-gooey on us, though I will admit that the chapter in question is complex.
The book is a very thoughtful contemplation of the importance of Good Friday, and why Christians can't skip past it to the Resurrection.
We are a Good Friday People first.
If the past week hasn't driven that home, I don't know what will.
Take and read.
Of course it is:
Saliva becomes thick and foul-tasting; the tongue clings irritatingly to the teeth and the roof of the mouth .... A lump seems to form in the throat ... severe pain is felt in the head and neck. The face feels full due to the shrinking of the skin. Hearing is affected, and many people begin to hallucinate... [then come] the agonies of a mouth that has ceased to generate saliva.
The tongue hardens into what McGee describes as "a senseless weight, swinging on the still-soft root and striking foreignly against the teeth." Speech becomes impossible, although sufferers have been known to moan and bellow.
Next is the "blood sweats" phase, involving "a progressive mummification of the initially living body." The tongue swells to such proportions that it squeezes past the jaws. The eyelids crack and the eyeballs begin to weep tears of blood. The throat is so swollen that breathing becomes difficult, creating an incongruous yet terrifying sense of drowning.
Finally ... there is living death, the state into which Pablo Valencia had entered when McGee discovered him on a desert trail, crawling on his hands and knees: "His lips had disappeared as if amputated, leaving low edges of blackened tissue; his teeth and gums projected like those of a skinned animal, but the flesh was black and dry as a hank of jerky; his nose was withered and shrunken to half its length, and the nostril-lining showing black; his eyes were set in a winkless stare, with surrounding skin so contracted as to expose the conjunctiva, itself as black as the gums...; his skin [had] generally turned a ghastly purplish yet ashen gray, with great livid blotches and streaks; his lower legs and feet ... were torn and scratched by contact with thorns and sharp rocks, yet even the freshest cuts were so many scratches in dry leather, without trace of blood."
[Link via Mere Comments.]
I was not disappointed:
In short: err on the side of life is not a bad motto to keep in mind. This seems simple enough. I respect those who nod, count to three, and offer a soft “however” so that we may refine the particulars.
But I don’t have much time for those who hear “err on the side of life” and automatically bristle, because they hear the voice of someone who, damn their black and God-addled brain, once sent $10 to a politician who opposed parental notification law that did not have a judicial review.
You may not always agree with that sort of person. You may have no need for them. But you never think you have need of any chocks until you're in the truck, and you realize it's rolling down the hill. Backwards.
Just before going to sleep last night, my eldest asked:
"Daddy, can I have a drink of water?"
With a catch, I said "Of course, honey."
I wonder how many times Bob Schindler got up at night to get his little girl water. And now a band of total bastards says that's "illegal."
Should people ever try to do this to one of my children, may Almighty God have mercy on them.
For I will be inclined to apply their standards of "mercy" instead.
Tuesday, March 22, 2005
I caught a snippet on the radio this morning, chatter about Terri Schiavo, and heard this:
"What about the right to die with dignity?"
"What's so 'dignified' about starvation?"
So, the next time I see famine victims on TV, I can at least console myself with the knowledge that they have their dignity?
That's good to know.
Ross Douthat at The American Scene makes several good points, especially right at the end:
I'm no expert on how these issues are adjudicated in Florida, but it doesn't seem like it ought to be hard -- the legislature could simply pass a law stating that "in the absence of a living will to the contrary, treatment cannot be withdrawn from a comatose patient so long as there are immediate family members willing to care for him/her." Or "so long as anyone is willing to care for her." Or "in perpetuity," if the money could be found to pay for it.
And yes, I know, the GOP isn't very good at forking over money for poor people's health care. But if you want a "culture of life" -- and like many people, I'm by no means convinced that much of the GOP leadership actually wants such a culture -- sometimes you have to be willing to pay.
[Link via Mark Sullivan]
Modern American society currently stands very close to this precipice, and many appear to be willing to leap right on in. Mark Steyn has a brilliant column on it today:
Shortly after 9/11, I wrote in these pages about one of the most curious aspects of the new war - the assurance given to Islamist "martyrs" that 72 virgins were standing by to pleasure them for eternity. The notion that the after-life is a well-appointed brothel is a perplexing one to the Judaeo-Christian world, and I suggested that Americans would be sceptical if heaven were framed purely in terms of boundless earthly pleasures.
But, on reflection, if the Islamists are banal in portraying the next world purely in terms of sensual self-gratification, we're just as reductive in measuring this one the same way.
America this Holy Week is following the frenzied efforts to halt the court-enforced starvation of a brain-damaged woman for no reason other than that her continued existence is an inconvenience to her husband. In Britain, two doctors escape prosecution for aborting an otherwise healthy baby with a treatable cleft palate because the authorities are satisfied they acted "in good faith".
You can read similar stories in almost any corner of the developed world, except perhaps the Netherlands, where discretionary euthanasia is so advanced it's news if the kid makes it out of the maternity ward. As the New York Times reported the other day: "Babies born into what is certain to be a brief life of grievous suffering should have their lives ended by physicians under strict guidelines, according to two doctors in the Netherlands.
"The doctors, Eduard Verhagen and Pieter J. J. Sauer of the University Medical Center in Groningen, in an essay in today's New England Journal of Medicine, said they had developed guidelines, known as the Groningen protocol."
Ah, the protocols of the elders of science. Odd the way scientists have such little regard for scientific progress. It's highly likely that many birth defects - not just the bilateral cleft lips - will be treatable and correctible in the next decade or two. But once you start weighing the relative values of individual lives, there's no end to it. Much of that derives from the way abortion has redefined life - as a "choice", an option.
In practice, a culture that thinks Terri Schiavo's life in Florida or the cleft-lipped baby's in Herefordshire has no value winds up ascribing no value to life in general.
The pressure begins at the margins, and then inexorably starts to squeeze inward. One of the most darkly-comic blasts of hysteria that I've heard repeated over and over and over is this:
"If the government can do this to Terri Schiavo, they'll do it to everyone--they'll be shoving feeding tubes in left and right!"
To which I reply: "Welcome to our planet! By all means, O Visitor, take a look around and make sure to see a sunset in the Porcupine Mountains."
In this age of utility-minded government and bean-counting insurers disinclined to authorize long-term treatment for anything, you should fear the opposite. There have been Terris in the past--there will be far more in the future.
Which is why all of this talk about her condition and prospects of recovery should be a source of profound disquiet. This language reveals a strictly utilitarian calculus--what are we getting--or can we get--for our money and effort? It becomes increasingly easy to assign useless eater status with that mindset. It spreads, very subtly but very surely. Today it's Terri Schiavo. Tomorrow it's the octogenarian next door you don't know very well, but who has tuberculosis. The next day it's Grandma, who has been awfully listless since Grandpa died. The day after that it's you.
And if you think the paper shackles of a living will or advance directive will hold back the utilitarian imperative for long, I hope you are right. But I very much doubt it. We all become increasingly "useless" to strangers as time passes.
Welcome to post-modern secular civil society, and good luck.
You are going to need it.
...this is extremely cool:
That's a thoughtful review.
As to the Wiccans, that's how one group pulls through; the religion is part of the way it does so, using it to help build the sense of community and belonging which are so necessary in that context. The details of the belief aren't as important as the fact of belief itself; of course, the fact that the Change pretty well discredits scientistic materialism for most people helps.
And as one character comments in the sequel, it's a good religion for farmers -- the festivals all make sense if you're raising crops in the northern temperate zone.Other groups hit on different methods.
Incidentally, traditionalist Catholics _are_ prominent among the other survivors, as will be brought out somewhat in the sequel, THE PROTECTOR'S WAR (out in August). Both good ones (the warrior monks of Mt. Angel form a major nucleus of survival) and bad ones (the Protector's church centered in Portland).
It sounds legit--call it a gut instinct. Welcome, Mr. Stirling--and thanks kindly!
So--how many established science fiction authors have visited your blog lately?
Didn't think so.
By the way, I would be remiss in failing to mention that a published fantasy author visits here once in a while as well. Interestingly enough, I lent her my copy of Dies The Fire, and she, too, is almost Pavlovian waiting for the sequel. If she wants to pipe up, fine--but I'll keep her anonymous otherwise.
Not so BTW--thanks to the wonders of the Internet, you don't have to wait to August for the entire sequel. Sample chapters are here.
My brother is "officially" back now--we've had the party. On Saturday, Doug was feted at the Alma Armory, home of B Battery of the 1-119th (Michigan National Guard)--another fine group of Americans who have seen active duty during the past year. About 150 showed up for food, beer, coffee, food, cameraderie, and food. Doug's in fine fettle, physically and mentally, though he was a little unprepared for the following exchange:
Aunt: You're looking good, Doug.
Doug: Well, what can I say? Playgirl keeps calling me.
Me: Why? Is your subscription up?
Doug: [Pause, followed by the smell of burnt toast.] That was actually a good one!
People who think Doug's big brother was a little mean will be pleased to note that he cleaned my clock in cards later that evening.
Great to have you back, bro. Now just arrange to have part of deer season off this year.
I have to get my money back...
Friday, March 18, 2005
This is the reading that left me taken aback a couple of weeks ago: Psalm 31(30), from the Office of Readings. It is especially fitting today. If you can, take a moment to pray it on Terri's behalf:
Psalm 31(30) In te, Domine, speravi.
In you, O Lord, I take refuge. Let me never be put to shame. In your justice, set me free,
hear me and speedily rescue me. Be a rock of refuge for me, a mighty stronghold to save me,
for you are my rock, my stronghold. For your name's sake, lead me and guide me.
Release me from the snares they have hidden, for you are my refuge, Lord.
Into your hands I commend my spirit. It is you who will redeem me, Lord.
O God of truth, you detest those who worship false and empty gods.
As for me, I trust in the Lord: let me be glad and rejoice in your love. You who have seen my affliction and taken heed of my soul's distress,
have not handed me over to the enemy, but set my feet at large.
Have mercy on me, O Lord, for I am in distress. Tears have wasted my eyes, my throat and my heart.
For my life is spent with sorrow and my years with sighs. Affliction has broken down my strength and my bones waste away.
In the face of all my foes I am a reproach, an object of scorn to my neighbors and of fear to my friends. Those who see me in the street run far away from me.
I am like a dead man, forgotten, like a thing thrown away.
I have heard the slander of the crowd, fear is all around me, as they plot together against me, as they plan to take my life.
But as for me, I trust in you, Lord; I say: "You are my God.
My life is in your hands, deliver me from the hands of those who hate me.
Let your face shine on your servant. Save me in your love.
Let me not be put to shame for I call you, let the wicked be shamed! Let them be silenced in the grave,
let lying lips be dumb, that speak haughtily against the just with pride and contempt."
How great is the goodness, Lord, that you keep for those who fear you, that you show to those who trust you in the sight of men.
You hide them in the shelter of your presence from the plotting of men; you keep them safe within your tent from disputing tongues.
Blessed be the Lord who has shown me the wonders of his love in a fortified city.
"I am far removed from your sight," I said in my alarm. Yet you heard the voice of my plea when I cried for help.
Love the Lord, all you saints. He guards his faithful but the Lord will repay to the full those who act with pride.
Be strong, let your heart take courage, all who hope in the Lord.
Thursday, March 17, 2005
Wasn't a big one in my household--my family is true Brit--both sides. But the wife (descended from Shanahans) is Irish, and the wee ones are, too. Not to mention the priest who married us, the estimable Fr. William McGoldrick, who kindly deigned to the overlook my Englishness.
[Heather also roots for Michigan State, so it's a wonder we ever spoke civilly to each other, let alone married. The mysteries of Providence. But I like beer, and I'm wearing green, so there you go.]
Anyway, for things Irish:
The (High) King of Beers.
Mark Sullivan has his usual feast of links.
No word yet from Thomas Fitzpatrick, but keep checking. Odds are you'll need a bypass, but you'll die happy.
Via Mark, we learn that Fr. Ethan is blogging his top five Irish-themed films. Scroll down to see.
A good list, but he missed a few, in my estimation:
In The Name Of The Father: the story of the Irish immigrants wrongly convicted of the Guildford pub bombings in 1974. Daniel Day-Lewis and Pete Postlethwaite are brilliant, and the injustice of the convictions is staggering. I was studying in Scotland in 1989 when Conlan was released--it was a huge story in Britain. Please note it got an R-rating for non-gratuitous violence.
Hear My Song: a light-hearted charmer (but note that it, too, is R-rated--for some nudity) about a slick promoter who has to lure a legendary Irish tenor out of tax exile for a concert in Britain. Ned Beatty stars as the reluctant tenor, and some fine Irish music is (too briefly) showcased. For the lads, pixie-cute Tara Fitzgerald also has a prominent role. It is actually based--very loosely--on the life of Irish tenor Josef Locke, who ran into tax trouble in post-war Britain.
Evelyn: Another film based on a true story, this time the travails of Desmond Doyle, an unemployed Irish housepainter whose wife deserted him. Under Irish law, the children of indigent single fathers (but not mothers) were taken away and put into Church-run orphanages. Doyle decided to fight it out in court, with the assistance of an Irish-American lawyer. Evelyn is Doyle's eldest daughter. Mostly light-hearted, and even a little cutesy, but well done. Pierce Brosnan is convincing in the role of Doyle, who is reduced at one point to leather-lunging it in the pub for whatever change he can scrounge up to support his family and his fight. And, as a nice bonus, with one exception, the priest and nuns are sympathetic and humane characters. The priest apologetically offers an interesting insight into Irish seminary life at the time: "Well, I was the seminary boxin' champion, you know..."
Sounds like a custom that could be revived here in the States.
Coming soon to a wedding near you: Court Backs 3-Oxen Dowries. [Warning: one scatological term.]
In another civil finding, the Court noted prevailing Nepalese-Canadian-Yemeni standards in opening the way for legalized stonings at arranged gay marriages.
Wednesday, March 16, 2005
Tuesday, March 15, 2005
I like poetry,
long walks in the park,
and poking dead things with a stick.
Ah, one of the joys of being Catholic...
I rated as a Bourbon: "You're 118 proof, with specific scores in beer (140) , wine (83), and liquor (60)."
Pretty accurate--I'm a beer man. 99th percentile, according to the test.
[Thanks to Erik and the still-underappreciated Eve. ]
P.S. Beware the logo--I couldn't get it to format properly on my blog. You may have the same problem.
In August 2003, a transformer blew in Ohio, causing a cascade effect that blacked out 50 million people in the U.S. and Canada. We were among them, and except for the uncomfortable heat, it was almost charming (here's Part III: we went north, stayed at the parents' cottage, and came back to find the power on. The end.)
Sci-fi author S.M. Stirling has imagined a world where the power never comes back on. In fact, because of the changes in fundamental physical laws, it never can. That includes all electronics--even gunpowder and internal combustion/steam-powered engines. Something--someone--has knackered the entire planet, and quite thoroughly. The survivors call it "the Change."
Pause for a moment to consider how much food it takes to feed a major American metropolitan area on a daily basis. Then consider how that food is delivered. Then consider how water is supplied and purified for the same region. Then consider the hospitals...
Now contemplate how much nonperishable food, water and medicine you currently have in your household. Now take stock of all of the useful skills you have that translate into an environment that is the functional equivalent of the Eleventh Century, A.D.
That's the stark horror at the core of DTF. Essentially, if you live in a large city or suburb and haven't skedaddled as best you can within 24 hours, you. are. dead. Either quickly, or more horribly, through cannibalism (eater or eatee). One of the characters estimates that there may be only 10-20 million people left alive between the Hudson Bay and Guatemala after the first year, post-Change.
To his credit, Stirling doesn't dwell much on urban horrors, giving only brief snapshots of such medium sized cities as Portland, Salem and Eugene, Oregon. The deaths of the metropoli are only hinted at, and touched upon in rumors, but that's it. The only survivors of such places are endurance bicyclists.
With that hideous premise, Stirling has managed to craft a fascinating yarn, focusing on two bands of Oregon survivors: one led by a Wiccan high priestess and singer named Juniper MacKenzie, and the second led by a Michigan Marine Recon veteran-turned-bush-pilot named Mike Havel (Havel manages to pull off a more or less successful crash landing after the Change--jumbo jets are unable to do the same, with tragic results). And, of course, there's a powermongering villain--Norman Arminger, an ex-Jesuit (I swear I'm not making this up), swordsman and professor of medieval history, who calls himself the Lord Protector of Portland.
Stirling has taken a lot of flak for what some call an inordinate amount of detail about the Wiccan religion and its adherents. The critics are missing the point. I've read virtually everything Stirling has written. He's a research hound. He's going to hit you with it (even if his historical research is open to debate on occasion). He's providing detail on a still-little-known religion, and he's going to get it right. But more to the point, the Wiccan-ness of the MacKenzie survivors helps them to survive and adapt in the aftermath of the Change. The Havel band gloms onto a victory over a marauding grizzly, and the Tolkien-worship of one of its younger members.
A related note to Christian readers: Stirling is not religious, of any stripe. What he does have is a healthy respect for religion, and its enduring value and impact on human behavior. Think J. Michael Straczynski, and you're on the right path. The heroine of Under The Yoke (the second book in the not-for-the-squeamish Draka trilogy) was Sr. Marya Sokolowska, a devout and fearless Polish nun.
I'll go so far as to say this--what Stirling is trying to say is that only an older-style "hearth" religiosity can survive such profound, dislocating shocks. Wicca is that. Adapted-to-modernity religions--ones wholly dependent on the current social order--cannot. Oprahism--in all of its religious flavors--is done for. Even the tougher, more serious forms of modern Protestantism--dependent as they are on universal literacy and the printing press--have a hard time adapting to the Change. If Stirling can be accused of a consistent, active dislike, it would be for 20th Century Protestantism. He doesn't seem to think there's an essential there there, so to speak. It's a little unfair, even from my perspective, but I see what he's getting at. There's also the slight botch on a translation of a passage from Galatians that actually has to do with abortion, not sorcery, but that's just the incorrigible papist speaking. For the most part, he gets it right--even the hardline Protestant minister leading a surviving town near the MacKenzies is portrayed as honorable, courageous and honest.
Frankly, Stirling could have just as easily based his story on a band of rural Tridentine Catholics, another group a half-turn away from the modern, and less dependent upon it, and achieved a lot of the same result.
Hmm--that's what fan fiction is for...
Another clueless critique is about the luck that both bands encounter. Well, duh--survivors tend to be more fortunate than victims. That's part of what makes them "survivors." They're smart and capable, too, but that's not always enough.
Then there's the Adventure! angle. That's a welcome development in Stirling's recent fiction--from the Island series (it's the flip side of DTF--it's a long story) to the standalones Conquistador (I. Want. To. Go. There. Now.) and The Peshawar Lancers. The last is probably the friendliest way to get acquainted with Stirling's work--it's a swashbuckler (Exotic Lands! Heroic Heroes! Villainous Villains! Distressed Damsels!) through and through. But DTF has it, too, from the punishment of marauding cannibals ("There are some things no one is entitled to do to survive"), to the dethroning of petty tyrants, betrayals, the lot--all with a healthy dollop of a legend in the making. A tragic legend, too, if I'm reading the signs right, hinging on a seemingly harmless and understandable decision two of the characters make. (Stirling is not afraid of unhappy endings and likeable characters dying--it made one of his series a particularly daunting--if compulsive--read.)
Then take up sword training or archery.
Just in case.
Monday, March 14, 2005
If heretics no longer horrify us today, as they once did our forefathers, is it certain that it is because there is more charity in our hearts? Or would it not too often be, perhaps, without our daring to say so, because of the bone of contention, that is to say, the very substance of our faith, no longer interests us?
Men of too familiar and too passive a faith, perhaps for us dogmas are no longer the Mystery on which we live, the Mystery which is to be accomplished in us. Consequently, then, heresy no longer shocks us; at least, it no longer convulses us like something trying to tear the soul of our souls away from us....And that is why we have no trouble in being kind to heretics, and no repugnance in rubbing shoulders with them.
In reality, bias against 'heretics' is felt today just as it used to be. Many give way to it as much as their forefathers used to do. Only, they have turned it against their political adversaries. Those are the only ones who horrify them. Those are the only ones with whom they refuse to mix. Sectarianism has only changed its object and taken other forms, because the vital interest has shifted. Should we dare to say that this shifting is progress?
It is not always charity, alas, which has grown greater, or which has become more enlightened: it is often faith, the taste for the things of eternity, which has grown less. Injustice and violence are still reigning; but they are now in the service of degraded passions.
--Henri de Lubac, S.J.
Further Paradoxes, pp. 118-119, Newman Press, 1958. (Ellipsis in original)
Fr. Bryce Sibley recounts his recent attendance at a "masculine spirituality" workshop conducted by Fr. Richard Rohr. Fr. Rohr seems to recognize a crisis caused by bad male role models generally, and bad fathers particularly, but he hits upon the most wrongheaded solution yet:
Fr. Rohr says that he does not want to be limited by having to call God “Father.” He writes in his book Adam’s Return (which was the basis for his presentations), that he “will not disallow all those wonderfully sexually charged words for God” (Adam’s Return xiv); a list which includes such words as “Mother,” “Daughter,” and “Bride” (AR xiv). He says that we must “find public ways to recognize, honor, and name the feminine nature of God, since we have overly limited our metaphors for God for centuries” (AR xiv). He bases this claim on his belief that, “God is the ultimate combination of whatever it means to be male and whatever it means to be female” (AR xiii).
God as divine hermaphrodite. Yeah, that'll have the lads storming back in droves.
Let's leave aside the total lack of authoritative warrant for Fr. Rohr's "reimagining," and simply answer from the gut. Whenever I read these "God our Father/Mother" things, I lock up. I can't fathom it. God ceases to be someone I can relate to, and instead becomes a depersonalized, incomprehensible It. Why? Because I don't know any fathermothers. You probably don't either. Randall's rhymed description of his p**no viewing material in Clerks leaps immediately to mind.
I don't know any Its, much less do I have a relationship with one. Better simply to add "-dess", call her "Mother," and have done with it. I can comprehend that. It's not warranted by so much as a scrap of Scripture, but at least there's a quantifiable objective reality that I can understand. In fact, it would be another religion entirely, but it would be honest.
Get Religion has an interesting set of links about Ashley Smith, the heroic single mom who helped capture courtroom-shooter Brian Nichols.
Go. Read. It's a textbook example of the number one way to survive a hostage situation--making sure you humanize yourself to your captor.
[The number two way being making sure you are rescued by Israelis.]
I also heartily concur in Douglas LeBlanc's prayer:
The same story mentions that Smith already has hired a law firm to handle negotiations for book or movie deals. Please, God, please, don't let it be on Lifetime.
[Thanks to Amy for the link.]
Friday, March 11, 2005
[These are like interrogatories, so, as they are under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, related subparts are considered part of the original question for counting purposes.
1. What has been the biggest surprise to you about being a father? What has been the greatest challenge?
2. Which of your non-internet writings are you most proud of--in the non-sinful sense, and why? Feel free to be as broad as possible--this can include motions or briefs, if you are so inclined.
3. As all reasonable people know, Babylon 5 was the best science-fiction series ever filmed. Which of Babylon 5 major characters did you find the most compelling, and why? Which was the least, and why?
4. Which do you incline more to as regards the state of the Church--Cdl. Ratzinger's pessimism or Pope John Paul II's optimism?
5. Which pre-Vatican II theology books do you recommend? Feel free to recommend as any as you like--it's your blog space, after all.
Zach Frey is on deck, and Heather to follow.
Come on--I need two more vi--olunteers.
[Update: Edited 3/14 for uncompelling multiple uses of the word "compelling" in #3.]
Interesting interview with Sandra Miesel, Catholic blogdom's conduit to the wonderful world of science fiction and fantasy. She has some useful recommendations for those interested in enduring "classics":
For examples of what SF writers themselves think "classic," track down the SFWA Hall of Fame anthologies or the SFWA Grand Master anthologies. The reprinted Andre Norton novels that I mentioned above are from the ‘50s and ‘60s, but new readers still enjoy them because of their good basic storytelling. For specific books, the works of J.R.R. Tolkien and maybe C.S. Lewis’s Narnia series will be read for generations but those are special cases. Two good bets within our genre would be The Martian Chronicles (1950) by Ray Bradbury and A Canticle for Leibowitz (1960) by Walter M. Miller, which have both already shown great staying power. What complicates the picture (besides technological innovation and shifts in popular taste) is the SF & F field’s own transformation after Star Wars (1977) from a niche market to a huge, conglomerate-owned, bestseller-driven genre where half the books published are media spinoffs. It’s harder for the reader to find what’s genuinely good and harder for the writer to be genuinely original.
I think I've already given you marching orders on Canticle. It belongs in your library, class. I certainly hope you are prepared to give your report. As to explicit or implicitly Catholic/Christian works, she also offers up some advice:
Philip K. Dick, who was drawn to Oriental mysticism, shows "small folk" resisting evil and creating beauty in The Man in the High Castle, Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldrich, and Ubik. (I don’t recommend what he wrote post-1971!)
Poul Anderson’s explorations of the imperfectability of man in a universe doomed by entropy made him the master of the SF & F novelette. He celebrates freedom, courage, and responsibility in dozens of story collections, any of which will have some good stories. His fantasy classics Three Hearts and Three Lions and A Midsummer's Tempest have a Christian framework but The Broken Sword's is Norse paganism.
Gordon R. Dickson thought that man was perfectible but Pilgrim and Soldier, Ask Not are powerful tributes to faith, courage, and sacrificial love.
You didn’t ask about Christian writers but I’ll list some fine ones from former times anyway.
R.A. Lafferty wore his conservative Catholicism on his sleeve in Past Master, Fourth Mansions, and The Flame Is Green. His quirky short stories are like tall tales. Russell Kirk’s excellent ghost stories are collected in Ancestral Shadows. Manly Wade Wellman’s fantasy stories about Appalachia collected in John the Balladeer and Valley So Low presuppose Southern Protestantism. The SF collections The Rediscovery of Man by Cordwainer Smith, an Anglican, is overtly Christian and Ingathering by Zenna Henderson, a Methodist, is implicitly so. At the Young Adult level, try Elizabeth Goudge‘s Little White Horse and Linnets and Valerians which are exquisite fantasies suffused with Anglican sensibility. The Satanic Mill by Otfried Preusler is a vivid historical fantasy with a Protestant background.
The good thing about this list is that I can assure you it's not polluted by heavy-handed didacticism or preachifying. Sandra (let's be informal) hates that with an absolute passion. Ask her about a writer I happen to like--Michael D. O'Brien, and she'll discharge both barrels into the guy.
I can concur in at least one of the recommendations from personal experience. If you have not read The Man In The High Castle, please take the following in the nicest possible way: you are an utter, complete, pathetic drooling loser. Leave your office and home now, and go buy a copy (I assure you, the cover is an artsy irrelevance--the plot has nothing to do with iridescent torsos). As she says, it is a beautiful story about ordinary people trying to thwart great evil as best they can.
Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep? is another classic, which inspired the film Blade Runner, also a classic, but the two differ greatly in story, tone and focus.
With that, I'll chuck out a few more of my own recommendations: The High Crusade by Anderson, an absolute hoot where 14th Century English soldiers preparing to smash the French turn the tables on invading aliens.
--Anything by Katherine Kurtz set in the Deryni universe, which supposes a psychically gifted race called the Deryni trying to survive in a fractious kingdom suffused with medieval Catholicism, with all its glories and flaws. A note--her earlier stuff is a bit uneven in writing quality, to be blunt, and a bit uneven in the depiction of the powers of the Deryni (some display extreme powers like weather control, which are fortunately dropped as being a bit over the top, and never discussed again). But the later works have really rounded into shape, and can be a bit grim in spots (she is not afraid to let heroes die and evil triumph, even for an entire trilogy). Do not overlook the Deryni Archives short story collection, which includes the haunting "The Priesting of Arilan," a powerful story about the discovery of an attempt to pervert the Eucharist for evil purposes, indeed.
Thursday, March 10, 2005
"Cat shoots owner."
Cats are like that. Mine locked me out of my apartment once. I was washing the laundry, and came back to find my door barred. I had to call Heather (then in girlfriend status) at 2:00 am to pick me up and go to get the other set of keys from my ex-roommate (who'd moved 20 miles away), wake him up with around 10 hangup calls from a pay phone (he set his answering machine to pick up at 2 rings, and answered with a hysterical "WHAT?!?") and return.
Cats: At Least They're Biodegradable.
I have two volunteers for the five questions game--Zach Frey and SAM. Any other bloggers game for a grilling?
If so, indicate your willingness to play cadaver in the box below.
That is all.
Sunday, March 06, 2005
My favorite Washington correspondent for Aggh--Orthodoxy! It Burns! It Burns! Weekly attempts to do some "myth"-busting this week. I'm only going to address the section dealing with the leanings of young Catholics. As to the rest, all I'm going to say is that if the logic underlying the "busting" is the same, then the whole thing is simply cotton candy comfort food for the Forces of Enlightenment--a lot of whipped air and spun sugar that disintegrates upon contact with reality.
There is indeed "something else going on in our nation," and that, according to some Catholic writers is a revitalized "orthodoxy" among the Catholic young. Papal biographer George Weigel says they are at the forefront of an "authentic Catholic renewal" and author Colleen Carroll (The New Faithful) writes that "orthodoxy's appeal seems to be growing among young adults who have a disproportionate amount of cultural influence -- those who set trends and lead others in academic, artistic, and political circles."
Carroll's book is great. I strongly recommend it.A case of wishful thinking? At a Feb. 18 presentation on "Commitments and Concerns of Young Adult Catholics," Catholic University of America sociologist Dean Hoge painted a picture of 18-to-39-year-old American Catholics that shattered the myth of growing conservatism among this group.
First of all, Carroll is careful to state that her subjects do not represent some kind of majority view--on page 8 she acknowledges that clear majorities of da yutes don't adhere to orthodoxy. What she says is that there is a growth in orthodox observance among the young. Consider, for example, the proof of a clear trend toward orthodoxy among young Catholic priests.
Now on to lies, damn lies and statistics.
And the first question you should be asking yourself is this--how do these numbers compare to previous years--if there are any?
Not surprisingly, perhaps, only 22 percent of this age group agreed that it is "always morally wrong" to "engage in premarital sex," though nearly two-thirds of their elders (63 and older) said so. Only 10 percent of younger Catholics agreed that artificial birth control is always wrong.
Ah, the Reporter. The relentless critic of those who "fixate" on "pelvic issues."
From Mr. Feuerherd's account, it seems an odd survey, what with only four questions. [Sarcasm off.]
Given my slight acquaintance with Hoge's work, there were many questions, and detailed. So why start with those two? Hmmmm....
The responses are not exactly stunners, either. I vaguely recall being in my late teens to mid-20s (and sometimes without acute embarrassment), and I remember being endlessly entertained by answering questionnaires that asked for your sex with the equivalent of "BOO-YEAH!"
Now I have three children. Tends to mature the ol' perspective, and fast.But even outside temptations of the flesh (opportunities for which are presumably greater among the younger population), the overwhelming majority (80 percent) of the generation called to lead this "authentic Catholic renewal" agreed that "individuals should seek out religious truth for themselves and not automatically conform to the doctrines of any church."
Well, doyyoyyoyyyyyy. While I'd like to see how the question was phrased in its entirety, it doesn't sound like something any reasonable person could disagree with. The marvel may be that 20% did.
The notion that automatic mindless conformance is the prerequisite for orthodoxy is evidence that someone stopped listening to the orthodox a long, long time ago. If anything, the Carroll book is a record of such seekers, as any fair read of it would acknowledge.
By the way: "reading" doesn't include thumbing through it at Barnes and Noble with an expression suggesting one has just been handed a bucket of fish guts.
There's nothing at all wrong with a diligent, good faith and sincere search for truth. If there was, I'd still be a nominal Methodist.
What is wrong is a lazy, endlessly skeptical "exploration" and dabbling, which seems to be the mentality of our benighted era. A phenomenon which "anything goes, no-reasonable-offer-will-be-refused" Catholicism does nothing to discourage.
Eighty-eight percent said, "if you believe in God, it doesn't really matter which religion you belong to." Most didn't even know the Second Vatican Council took place, much less what it taught.
It's not an encouraging sign when your rallying cry is "4 out of 5 religious illiterates agree with us! Nyeah nyeah nyeah-nyeah nyeaaaaah..." An odd and sad gloat, indeed.
Not to mention a terrifying snapshot of the state of rel-ed. One can only marvel at the hermetically sealed faith life (if it can be called that) that these poor folks are dwelling in. I mean, how on earth could you never even have heard of Vatican II? Even I had heard of it, in my Methodist/agnostic years. It reminds me of those painful Jay Leno bits where he interviews The Future of America on the sidewalk, and they can tell you all about Christina Aguilera's fiance', but can't name their Senator.
It would be nice if Feuerherd had provided a breakdown comparing Mass-attending young adults with their non-observant brothers and sisters. I'm sure it was in the presentation, too. The silence is deafening.
Which brings me to my final point--the fatal flaw in the Feuerherd piece is in comparing committed Catholics like those in The New Faithful with a pool consisting of everybody, including those who haven't darkened a church door since confirmation--if then.
It's not that the latter don't count--as children of God, they most certainly do. It's just that they can't be counted upon. Or rather, they can be counted upon, but only to return for the church wedding and the occasional C&E moment. At most, it's a residual identity, and at this rate it won't be passed on in even a minimal form to their own kids. To be blunt, they are a mission field with Catholic sympathies, nothing more. That sympathy makes it easier to reach them--and reach them we must--but they aren't exactly a fund of expert knowledge on how to fix what ails the Church. They surely can't set any agenda if they never show up. They'll need plenty of getting up to speed before they can be taken seriously, at any rate.
Moreover, they need to be reached with the Gospel, not the good news of self-affirmation preached in the cubicles of the Reporter. If you preach that people are welcome and just fine the way they are, they listen, all right. And stay home. Real discipleship costs you something--and, believe it or not, I think people are receptive to that, honestly presented.
So, to sum up, both Carroll and Hoge can be true--which is easy enough to see if you aren't too busy trying to stock up ammo for debates with conservatives.[Thanks to Amy Welborn for the link.]
Tuesday, March 01, 2005
Objectivists are a lot like like Communists: their ranks are burgeoning with the least remarkable minds you will ever stumble across. Not necessarily stupid, mind you. Indeed, there are often hints of great intelligence, but it in both factions it has been willingly shelved out of adoration for a dead Russian ideologue.
Yes, I know--flaying the Randies again. But this one just begged for it--a blinders-wearing-wrong review of the marvelous Pixar film, The Incredibles. Yes, it's old, but I just saw the film recently, so there. Arranging a babysitter is a bit of a chore.
In other words, it's new to me.
The review has its virtues, starting with the fact that the reviewer, David Kelley, seems like a bright and genuinely nice guy determined to soften the hardest edges of his adopted grim philosophy. A hat tip is especially warranted for the inspired title of the review--"Superhero Me!" However, the problems are legion. What especially stands out is its deft ignorance of a--no, THE--major, bedrock theme of the film.
Go ahead--browse through it. I'll be here when you get back.
As in family.
Yes, the essential theme--a united family triumphing where one member alone cannot--completely missed by the reviewer. Oh, sure, he uses the word "family" four times--but it is wholly incidental to the review. It could have been replaced with "group" or "band" for all the significance it has to the reviewer. Not surprising, since his guru had no truck with the concept herself.
But since it's a useful insight into the blinding power of ideology on otherwise decent folk, let's examine this more closely, shall we? I'll try to be vague, but beware of the spoiler potential here.
Countless articles and books have exposed the injustice of egalitarian policies, from affirmative action to "comparable worth" pay. Economists have documented their destructive effects. Newspapers bring daily reports of egalitarian lunacy: a school that won't post honor rolls, lest it be sued by parents of C students; SAT tests "re-normed" to boost the scores of minorities; a teacher hauled up before a college court for using the word "niggardly," taken as a slur by semantically challenged students. None of this seems to have done much to stem the egalitarian tide.
Much to agree with here, some not. I'm a big fan of the Vonnegut short story, Harrison Bergeron, after all. But, as do all people driven solely by secular ideology, it overstates the case--what about situations that call for restitution for actual, quantifiable wrongs? Even Antonin Scalia agrees with that, in the area of affirmative action. Still, not too bad.
Who would have thought that an animated film would finally touch a nerve, putting egalitarians on the defensive? That is the achievement of Pixar Studios' new hit, The Incredibles, the story of a family of superheroes who struggle against the reign of mediocrity and finally break free to excel. Along the way it skewers the dumbing down of schools, the mantra that everyone is special, and the laws that give losers special status as victims.
The overstatement continues here, but that's at most a minor flaw. The fatal flaw is in the second sentence: despite the fact this is one of the four uses of the term (remember--replace with "band"), Kelley completely misses the theme of family repeatedly emphasized by the film.
"...[t]he story of a family of superheroes who struggle against the reign of mediocrity and finally break free to excel."
OK, sure: there are some nice jibes at the modern victim- and complaint-cultures, enforced mediocrity and so forth. But they are--at most--subthemes. The Parrs are quite willing to live in suburbia, hide their identities and blend in--so long as they don't have to entirely deny who they are. Remember how the film ends: with the family together incognito at a middle school track race--rooting for Dash to finish second. He could smoke the field, but he doesn't. He's happy to put the family first. Their anonymity depends on it.
Doesn't sound like a gathering of Rand Achievers™ to me.
The movie begins with a droll conceit: Superheroes with miraculous powers have been put out of action by the very people they saved from fires, felons, and other fiascoes. With the help, naturally, of trial lawyers, these "victims" brought a rash of lawsuits against their saviors for incidental injuries and "wrongful rescue." The former heroes are now living in suburban obscurity under the government's Superhero Protection Program, forbidden to exercise their powers in public.
Bob Parr, formerly Mr. Incredible, works as a claims adjustor in an insurance company,
Where he battles his bottom line (and bottom feeder) boss to ensure that the customers get what they paid for.
commuting in a beat-up sedan barely large enough to hold his still-immense bulk. His wife, Helen (Elastigirl), stays home raising the kids, who also have superhuman powers. The family chafes at their enforced normality.
Helen was OK with it, actually. Violet (the sister) disliked their existence, but only in the common, general way teenagers can be sullen about everything.
Dash, the grade-school son who runs like a rabbit on speed, is angry that he can't join the track team lest he reveal his special power. "Dad says our powers make us special," he complains to his mother. "Everyone's special, Dash," she says—and he mutters, "Which is another way of saying that nobody is."
Bob sneaks off at night to fight crime with an old superhero buddy.
That would be "Frozone," played to perfection by Samuel L. Jackson. One of my favorites.
When Helen tells him he's missing a meaningless ceremony at Dash's school, he grumbles: "They keep finding new ways to celebrate mediocrity." It's only a matter of time before Bob accepts a secret superhero mission, one that eventually draws the entire family into a battle with a surprising villain, named Syndrome.
We will deal with the villain at great length later.
[Accurate summary of the film plot and its animated virtues snipped.]
But the most interesting thing about it is the controversy it has stirred.
In this respect, the film's distinction is not that it features exceptional characters doing heroic things. Such films are a dime a dozen, from comic-book classics like Superman to the latest thriller. What's distinctive is that the film explicitly defends the value of talent and achievement against the leveling values of egalitarianism.
Here's where the review derails. Yes, it does defend the value of God-given talent, which the Parrs possess in a unique way, but achievement? Really?
The Parrs are not self-made success stories. They are gifted individuals who put their talents in service to others. Not to say that the film doesn't give a lot of screen time to a self-made achiever--it does. But it's definitely not the Parrs.
In doing so it has unleashed a storm of commentary, pro and con, by reviewers, commentators, and bloggers.
A Rand Connection?
New York Times reviewer A.O. Scott said the film suggests an "immersion in both the history of American comic books and the philosophy of Ayn Rand." In the Nation, Stuart Klawans sneered: "The superheroes are in hiding because greedy trial lawyers sued them into retirement; and, while concealed, they chafe at their confinement, like Ayn Rand railing against enforced mediocrity."
Scott and Klawans were among the many who cited Rand as a point of reference, and possible inspiration, for the movie's theme.
Which just goes to show that the hard right and far left can be wrong in stereo. I mean, we're talking about the NY Times and The Nation here--Scott and Klawans see creeping fascism in "Right Turn Only" street signs. That they see the hand of Rand says more about them than it does the film.
To judge by the discussion of The Incredibles, Rand is known as much for her unapologetic love of excellence
Those who cannot do, preach. In her case, at wearying length.
as for her ethic of self-interest and her libertarian politics. She was indeed a great admirer of human achievement,
and, as a consequence, defended the rights and the honor of the highest achievers.
And advised the rest of the teeming masses to go to hell.
Her goal as a novelist, she said, was "the projection of an ideal man."
In the world she created in Atlas Shrugged, the economy comes to a halt when the most productive people go on strike
against the altruist moral code and its demand that they serve as keepers of their less able brothers.
Rand also understood the envy and power lust that fuel egalitarian doctrines. In an arresting scene in The Fountainhead
Now there is a contradiction in terms.
that has particular relevance to The Incredibles, her power-hungry villain Ellsworth Toohey explains one of the techniques he used to break the spirit of individuals and make them willing to submit to the collective.
"Kill man's sense of values. Kill his capacity to recognize greatness or to achieve it. Great men can't be ruled. We don't want any great men. Don't deny the conception of greatness. Destroy it from within. The great is the rare, the difficult, the exceptional. Set up standards of achievement open to all, to the least, to the most inept—and you stop the impetus to effort in all men, great or small. You stop all incentive to improvement, to excellence, to perfection. . . . Don't set out to raze all shrines—you'll frighten men. Enshrine mediocrity—and the shrines are razed."
Twisting his mustache all the way. BWA-HA-HA-HA-HA!
If it weren't for that meddling entrepreneur and his concubine...
Yeah--gripping. Roll over Dostoyevsky, and tell Tolstoy the news.
The Incredibles elicited predictable howls from the egalitarian Left. One blogger saw the movie as a page out of Nietzsche: "The strong, the movie suggests, should be allowed to thrive outside the false laws and values of the weak, acting according to their own superior, self-generated code." Another complained that the filmmakers were "apparently oblivious to the critiques of the Nietzsche/Rand/Nazi undertones beneath every superhero from Superman on down…. There's a huge difference between respecting difference, and instructing the weak to honor the inherent superiority of the great." Peter Conrad, a writer for England's left-wing Guardian, wrote a particularly nasty commentary on the superhero genre. "The superman is a man of power, which means that from the first his mission was political…. Superheroes are instinctive bullies and despots," he claims, like Arnold Schwarzenegger, or George W. Bush—or America as a world power.
Wow--the sky is a striking color on LeftWorld. Anyone who sees "instructing the weak to honor the inherent superiority of the great" in the film, much less has the ability to pick at his own hateHateHATEHATE! Chimpy S. Bushitler scab in the context of the review of a Pixar film is someone who long ago ceased breathing oxygen like the rest of us.
Give Kelley credit: It's nothing short of deranged to read the above themes into the film. The Parrs battled on behalf of the "weak" in the film, to the point of putting their lives on the line, against those who were basically superpowered id complexes. Afterward, the "supermen" were content to live in middle class anonymity among those same "weaklings."
Its the exact opposite of what the pinkos are saying. So much so, that it's hard to comprehend. Now back to whacking the righty.
In The Incredibles itself, however, there is no sign whatever that the heroes are interested in power. Nor of course did Ayn Rand believe that great ability entitled a person to control others, as she made abundantly clear in distinguishing herself from Nietzsche and defending the rights of all people to live as they choose.
Unless, of course, that civilization populated by lesser beings becomes so inconvenient to the talented that it must be destroyed. Other than that, hey--smoke if you got 'em.
Egalitarians insist on reading elitist political motivation into every work that recognizes differences in ability because of their own collectivist blinders. If one assumes from the outset that the group is the primary unit of existence, which controls the lives of individuals and gives them their identity, then indeed there are only two basic choices: an egalitarian society with democratic governance or a hierarchical society with aristocratic governance. But the assumption and the dichotomy are false.
Well, a "group" is the primary unit of existence. It's called "the family," and to an extent it does control the lives of its members and assuredly gives them their identity. The fact that it's despised by both social engineering-leftists and radical individualists is not surprising. But its also given both the civilization they are hungering to raze and remake.
That neither set of reviewers wanted to see the family theme is instructive.
A Few Complaints
While The Incredibles has a theme to warm the hearts
of Objectivists and has made the right people angry, it is not Atlas Shrugged. For one thing,
It's not a ham-handedly didactic morality play populated by stock characters speechifying at exhausting length masquerading as a novel?
the heroes are not productive geniuses who create value through exceptional ability in art, science, business, or invention.
Oh. Anyway, I dealt with this above. That's a pretty significant difference from the Rand oeuvre.
They are traditional heroes who ward off the destruction of value by criminals or natural disasters.
"DESTRUCTION OF VALUE"? That's certainly an "objective" way of putting the saving of innocent human life. You could not ask for a better example of objectivism as a mental straight-jacket.
The film's only scenes of work are of Bob in his miserable insurance-company cubicle and of his conflicts with his boss—a Scrooge-like caricature of the greedy capitalist who wants to turn down every customer's claim and watches indifferently when a man is mugged on the street outside his window.
And what Bob Parr does to his boss is....Just see the film. Then again, it's a sad scene, if you see the boss as trying to prevent the destruction of value...
In fighting crime and rescuing people, traditional heroes embody the classical virtues of the warrior, especially strength and courage, combined with the altruism of the Christian knight, dedicated to protecting the weak.
Bingo, as we Catholics are wont to say.
In a review for Box Office Mojo, Objectivist Scott Holleran accused The Incredibles of altruism on this score, because the superheroes are engaged in "saving lives as a moral duty for 'the greater good.'"
Exactly, Mr. Holleran.
For those of you unacquainted with the Ob weltschaung, "altruism" is a very, very bad thing indeed.
It's true that the Parrs risk their lives to help others, battling a villain portrayed as a selfish monster. Nevertheless, it seemed to me that their deeper motivation was the joy of exercising their powers—just as someone might choose to practice medicine, a profession whose goal is to heal the sick, because he loves the challenge of the work.
I don't know about you, but I generally like a doctor who's into the profession primarily because he wants to heal the sick, and secondarily, if at all, because he regards it as a "challenge." My daughter's hacking cough might not be a challenge, but I want it treated with the same professionalism as the fellow who might be carrying the Andromeda Strain down the hall.
Consequently, if you ever discover your physician is an obbie, I suggest switching. There obvious hint that Doc shares such views is that he has the bedside manner of a mounted trophy salmon.
In all seriousness, these mental gymnastics are tragicomic--Kelley is desperately trying to avoid even the slightest hint of the kryptonite which is "altruism." Most real human beings can't think this way for long.
Bob embarks on his heroic exploits not because others need him but because he needs to break out of a life he finds stifling. It was, after all, an ungrateful public that consigned him to that life in the first place.
At a certain level, true--he certainly misses the old life. But he lives TO SAVE PEOPLE, and he risks his life to do so. There's no evading the altruism.
Indeed, many liberal commentators complained that the film's superheroes are too selfish in pursuing self-realization rather than service.
They would be wrong.
A hostile article in the York Observer, for example, quoted liberal author Richard Goldstein: "And what is The Incredibles? It's really a movie about people sort of bursting out of this model of decency and concern for others, and all of those values that now get labeled politically correct, and bursting forth with their true strength and power, like an animated Hobbes."
Sigh. What's the word I'm looking for? Ah, yes--it's "b--ls--t." Sounds like the gibes hit Mr. Goldstein a little too close to home.
Again, what did the family do again?
The one unambiguous flaw in the movie's conception of heroism lies in its portrayal of the villain. Syndrome has invented technological marvels, like boots that enable him to fly, a fortress run by computers, and a ray gun that traps its target in an anti-gravitational force field. Though he puts these tools to evil uses, they are obviously the product of exceptional mental ability that makes the superheroes' athletic gifts seem crude by comparison.
Yes. That Syndrome is quite the acheiver.
By invoking the stock figure of the evil genius, the filmmakers have signed on to the conventional view that intelligence is at best amoral.
That's because it is amoral. How that intelligence is employed is what determines its morality.
Had they simply omitted any character of heroic mental powers, they would have conveyed a merely limited conception of heroism; by introducing such a character and making him the villain, they have offered a distorted conception.
Actually, what it did was this--it completely obliterated any possible linking of the heroism of the Parrs with the ob worldview. There is an objectivist in the film, all right--and his name is Syndrome.
Think about it--Syndrome is entirely self-made. He compensates for the innate gifts of supers by using his remarkable intelligence. In fact, he more than nullifies their God-given advantages, to the tune of being able to beat almost all of them. He creates value, all right.
Moreover, he does so while showering traditional morality with contempt. Syndrome ridicules Mr. Incredible as being weak for the hero's regard for all human life, including that of his foes, even when it apparently throws away his only chance to defeat the villain or even save his own life. Talk about your misguided altruism.
No wonder Kelley doesn't like the depiction of Syndrome: the villain embodies the logical conclusions of his own philosophy.
In an extraordinary moment near the end, Syndrome says his goal in inventing the technology was to destroy the superheroes by enabling everyone to do what they do. "Everybody will be super, which means no one will be." In that one line, writer Brad Bird managed to equate murder and invention as acts of envy-driven hatred, and to elevate native physical abilities over the exercise of man's distinctive ability to think, create, and magnify his powers through technology. The latter is an especially bizarre statement for the wizards at Pixar to make.
Murder and invention can easily be "acts of envy-driven hatred." It's a story as old as the race (oh, the irony of his "brother's keeper" crack!). Would that Kelley could acknowledge that the distinctive abilities of man he describes are too often abused, and objectivism offers no coherent way to condemn them.
And it's hardly bizarre--he could only say that if he has only a nodding acquaintance with the Pixar library. If anything, A Bug's Life is a better argument for his creed than The Incredibles. But even in the former film, the analogy falls apart at several points.
But it's only one line. Write it off as temporary insanity and enjoy the rest of the film.
I heartily endorse enjoyment of the film. It's a masterpiece.
There's an "interview game" going around St. Blog's, and I volunteered for it. Here are Alicia's questions to me (italics), and my answers (bold).
1. Why did you name your solo blog "Dyspeptic Mutterings"? Do you really suffer from chronic indigestion?
Good question. Uh, no, I don't really suffer from an unusual level of intestinal discomfort, except after reading Reporter editorials. Even then, I pop a Rolaid and I'm good to go. The bile is almost always metaphorical.
As to the name, it pretty well fit my mindset in late 2002, in that horrid first full year of the scandals: I'm irritated-to-furious (I'm feeling dyspeptic) but I might--might--be read by literally dozens during the course of any given week (for all intents and purposes, I'm muttering). It still fits, more or less.
Fun Fact: What almost no one knew is that the original title was going to be Sunshiny Thoughts and Happy Fluffy Bunnies, but (1) fortunately my wife got me to the emergency room in time and my medication was recalibrated and (2) I was advised that the title was already being used by a diocesan newspaper. Ah, well.
2. Why 2 blogs?
Another Fun Fact (which differs from the first one only in being true) is that this is the spin-off blog. Our original blog (which was shelved because of Blogger formatting problems) and its successor are family-and-vignette-oriented. Just ordinary life stuff. Sometimes really, really weird slices-of-life, but ordinary life nonetheless. Or that was the idea, at least. Unfortunately, I started enjoying the idea of shooting my mouth off, and did so to the tune of getting Instapundit and Corner references for the same essay, a rather, er, dyspeptic piece upbraiding Jimmy Carter and the entire nation of Quisl--er, Norway. Scroll up for the firestorm. Heather gently suggested that I take it outside, so I did.
3. What is your favorite devotion, and why?
Is the Liturgy of the Hours technically a "devotion"? I pray at least part of the Divine Office every day, usually the Office of Readings, and I have every day for the past eight or so months, ever since I bought the four volume set on eBay, ultra-cheap. I recommend LOTH strongly, but with the caveat that it is the most user-unfriendly prayer book format contrived by the mind of man. The essential failing is that it presumes you know what you are doing, and have been doing it for years. If you approach it "cold," it will be frustrating. Fortunately, the internet can help.
If not, then the main devotion I have is praying with my children before they go to sleep at night. We go through the seven prayers my eldest knows: The Our Father, Glory Be, Jesus Prayer, Hail Mary, Grace Before Meals/Bless Us O Lord (YOU try arguing with a three year old), Hail Holy Queen and the Fatima Prayer (O My Jesus). This last one Maddie has memorably referred to as the "Fires of Hell" prayer. Yikes.
4. If you could have supper with 2 saints, who would they be and what would you serve?
Sts. Therese of Lisieux and Jerome. I would definitely serve my patented What Are You Putting In It NOW? chili (venison or ground chuck--not hamburger!--depending on what was in the freezer). The sodium content is near-toxic, and definitely offers a sting for blander palates, but it's quite good, if I say so myself. With some brown rice and fresh vegetables, you have a solid meal.5. Do you have a favorite Bible verse or saying? What is it? How does it speak to you?
Just one? That's tough, but here goes: Yes. It's from chapter 11 of the Gospel according to St. John, and it is Jesus' words to Martha, the sister of Lazarus:
"I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?"
It is the ultimate question He poses to everyone, bluntly and without room for equivocation. It gets right in your face. It's unblinking. Well, how about it, Dale Price?
I can only answer yes.
Because any other answer is really a "no."
Thanks for the opportunity to answer, Alicia. Now what do I do--pass on five more questions to someone else?
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